Harry Woodgate, author and illustrator of Grandad’s Camper, discusses the importance of inclusive children’s literature. (Provided)
An award-winning non-binary children’s author explains the importance of children’s books where being LGBTQ+ is just a fact of life.
Harry Woodgate is the author and illustrator of grandpa camper – a colorful story about a gay grandfather who regales his granddaughter with tales of his adventures with her other grandfather, Grandpa.
The heartwarming tale – which is Woodgate’s debut as a writer-illustrator – tackles themes central to the human experience like love, relationships and grief. grandpa camper was critically acclaimed and won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Best Illustrated Book 2022.
Woodgate tells PinkNews that the book was inspired by research they did for their university thesis project, which focused on LGBTQ+ representation in illustrated children’s books.
Woodgate says there were two main issues that emerged from their years of research: a lack of older characters and a “lack of stories that aren’t about a queer character.”
“Especially very young children, you tend to get books that say ‘it’s OK to be gay’ or ‘it’s OK to be trans’ – and those books are needed,” they explain.
“But if those are the only books you introduce to very young children, then there’s the implicit suggestion that being LGBTQ is different, it’s not the norm – whatever the norm.”
They started looking for children’s books that had “incidental” representation – where kids see LGBTQ+ people living their lives, doing “boring things”, “going on adventures” and “falling in love”. Unsurprisingly, there “weren’t that many”. So they created their own.
Woodgate says they’I’ve always questioned naysayers who think children’s books can’t be as “deep and meaningful as adult fiction” or that LGBTQ+ stories should focus on “struggles of being queer.”
“These [children’s books] are the foundations of another generation’s interactions with the foundations of exploring who they are and their place in the world,” says Woodgate. “So I couldn’t think of anything more important.”
Without being “boringly humble about it”, Woodgate is convinced that grandpa camper is a good book, and they believe in it because it touches on “more universal themes”.
“So the fact that it’s not just about queer books, it’s about family and it’s about going through a time of grief,” says Woodgate. “I think the fact that it’s a book about these broader themes maybe makes it more accessible to a wider audience.”
Some of what informed Woodgate about research into how children’s picture books contribute to children’s “sense of visual literacy or their understanding of pictures and how they learn to decode forms of media” d ‘a kid.
It can impact their perceptions of “sex, gender and sexuality…just like mental health, culture, how the world works,” they explain.
“It’s actually surprising to see that kind of psychological aspect and how those portrayals in early childhood media have quite a lasting impact.”
grandpa camper is at the center of Just Like Us’ new free educational resources for School Diversity Weekwhich runs from June 20 to 24 this year.